Visiting holy places is only hard labor and a waste of time, born from ignorance of the mind. All perfection is at the lotus feet of the dear devotees of Śrī Govinda. With firm conviction by heart give up pride and envy and perform one-pointed bhajana.
Narottama dāsa Ṭhākura explains that one who has relationship with too many people is divided at heart.txt 5

The sādhaka should stay in the holy dhāmas, like Kṣetra maṇḍala, Vṛndāvana-dhāma, and Navadvīpa-dhāma, in the company of Vaiṣṇavas. Merely going to holy places on tour is not helpful. One may go to Kedarnātha, Gaṅgotrī, Yamunotrī, and so forth on tour, but what is the benefit? One should reside in Vraja.

sādhu-saṅga, nāma-kīrtana, bhāgavat-śravaṇa
mathurā-vāsa, śrī-mūrtira śraddhāya sevana
sakala sādhana-śreṣṭha ei pañca aṅga
kṛṣṇa-prema janmāya ei pāñcera alpa-saṅga
Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya-līlā 22.128-129

One should stay in the association of advanced devotees, chant harināma with them, hear Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam from them, reside in Mathurā, and worship Ṭhākurajī with love and faith. These five limbs of bhakti are the best because even slightly performing them causes the awakening of kṛṣṇa-prema.

How can we make relation with the lotus feet of God? Where does anurāga come from? Narottama dāsa Ṭhākura explains one must take shelter of the holy dhāmas, like Śrī Vṛndāvana, Navadvīpa-dhāma, and Kṣetra maṇḍala. There one should stay with svajātīya sādhus who are always absorbed in śravaṇa, kīrtana, smaraṇa and the other limbs of bhakti. Under their guidance one should reside in the holy dhāma.

Don’t run here and there restlessly. Your devotion will be lost. Sometimes a sādhaka practices the limbs of bhakti with Vaiṣṇavas, daily performing śravaṇa, kīrtana, smaraṇa and so forth, and it is very sweet. When one goes far away from the Vaiṣṇavas, slowly his practice decreases. At first one won’t rise so early, and won’t perform kīrtana, ārati, harināma or hari-kathā in the morning. Gradually, all devotional practice will be given up. Hence, sādhu-saṅga is most essential. In sādhu-saṅga, one should perform nāma kīrtana. In sādhu-saṅga, one should hear the Bhāgavatam. In sādhu-saṅga, one should reside in Mathurā, and in sādhu-saṅga, one should serve the Deity. Sādhu-saṅga is common to all.

If one is not with sādhus, then due to asat-saṅga, one’s nature will go wayward from bhakti. Gradually, one will perform less and less bhakti and will eventually give up everything. The Guru-varga has told many times the glories of sādhu-saṅga. They explain, “Spiritual energy comes when one is in sādhu-saṅga and when distant from sādhu-saṅga, the residual effect of the sādhu’s spiritual power works only for some time, and then it gradually dissipates. Then one says, ‘I don’t have time for doing kīrtana and hari-kathā twice daily. I will do śravaṇa and kīrtana once a day.’ Then one will say, ‘Śravaṇa and kīrtana is unnecessary. I will chant harināma and this is enough.’ Sometime later, one thinks, ‘Chanting in the mind is enough; I don’t need to keep count on a mālā.’ And finally, one thinks, ‘Anything I do is bhajana; I am a mahā-bhāgavata.’ Such offensive misconceptions will come due to bad association or lack of good association.

jñāne prayāsam-udapāsya namanta eva
jīvanti sanmukharitāṁ bhavadiya vārtāṁ
sthāne sthitāḥ sruti gatam tanu vāṅmanobhir
ye prāyaśo’jita-jito’pyasi tais-trailokyām
Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 10.14.3

O Kṛṣṇa, You are unconquered in all the three worlds, yet You become defeated by those devotees who give up trying to acquire impersonal knowledge of the undifferentiated Brahma, who listen to your topics from the mouths of the pure devotees, and who live their life following the path shown by the sādhus, by their body, mind and words.

There is no need to go and train here and there for acquiring jñāna, vijñāna, or performing karma and yoga. Be fixed! Sthāne sthitāḥ. Stay in that place where—bhavadiya vārtāṁ—the recitation, remembrance and kīrtana of God’s glories is always flowing. Stay there with the body, mind and speech. Sanmukharitāṁ means from the mouth of a sādhu, an honest distributor of hari-kathā, hari-sevā, harināma and so forth. Then stay there with your body, mind and speech. By doing so, the Lord of the three worlds, Śrī Hari, will be conquered and always stay with you.

If you endeavor for jñāna and other things, you will achieve no positive result. Performing so much austerity, sādhana, business, programs, feasts and festivals, is only beating dry husks without getting any grains if there is no sādhu-saṅga and śravaṇa, kīrtana, smaraṇa, pāda-sevanam. If one moves around the different tīrthas without being in sādhu-saṅga, all one’s efforts are useless.

Once there was a sādhu doing bhajana nearby Surya-kuṇḍa. He thought, “I have been in Vraja-maṇḍala my whole life, taking mādhukarī to maintain my existence. I daily have gone to āśramas of sādhus, performing nāma-saṅkīrtana, hearing hari-kathā, and serving. Now I have some desire to see Dvārakā. Kṛṣṇa left Vraja-maṇḍala and went there. I would like to see how Dvārakā is and after I will return to Vraja.”

Shortly after, some wealthy group came and said to him, “We are going to Dvārakā and will gladly take you along; we can give you food and lodgings. Will you come with us?”

“Yes,” he said, “I was thinking of going myself.”

He went to Dvārakā and stayed for some time taking the prasāda of Rukmiṇī. His heart became dry and he had no taste for harināma, smaraṇa or vraja-sevā. When he returned to Vraja-maṇḍala no one would speak with him. His mind was very restless.

He asked, “What is my atonement, prayaścitta? How can I rectify my wrong? How will Rādhārānī be pleased with me?”
He dreamt of Śrīmatī Rādhārānī, who said, “You have eaten the remnants of Rukmiṇī. You have no relation with the Vrajavāsīs and don’t like Vraja Bhūmi. Go to Dvārakā.”

This person made Raṇa-vāḍī, the place of amorous exchanges and playful games of Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa, into a battle place (raṅga-vāḍī). He beat his head, wept, and rolled on the ground. But he no longer had any entrance in vraja-sevā or vraja-bhakti. He was suffering so much. He broke his head and his body automatically caught fire from intense separation. He slowly burned for an entire month and all the ash flew out of Vraja-maṇḍala. Now also, this place can be seen not far from Govardhana, called Raṇavāḍī. There is a nice āśrama there but no animal will enter that area. No one touches the fruits and flowers or enters that place.

A sādhaka who desires the service of Śrīmatī Rādhārānī’s lotus feet must be very careful. He should not take the company of those against the party of Śrīmatī. If śravaṇa and kīrtana is going on by the followers of Candrāvalī, or Rukmiṇī, one should not attend that program. One should engage in one-pointed bhajana of Govinda, under guidance of the Vraja-devīs and in the service of Śrīmatī Rādhārānī.

In Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Madhya-līlā 22.37-39), Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja Gosvāmī writes:
anya-kāmī yadi kare kṛṣṇera bhajana
nā māgiteha kṛṣṇa tāre dena sva-caraṇa
kṛṣṇa kahe,—‘āmā bhaje, māge viṣaya-sukha
amṛta chāḍi’ viṣa māge,—ei baḍa mūrkha
āmi—vijña, ei mūrkhe ‘viṣaya’ kene diba?
sva-caraṇāmṛta diyā ‘viṣaya’ bhulāiba

If those who want material happiness or to merge into Brahma engage in Bhagavān’s transcendental loving service, they will at once attain the shelter of Kṛṣṇa’s lotus feet, even though they do not ask for it. Kṛṣṇa is thus so merciful. Kṛṣṇa says, ‘If one performs my loving service but at the same time wants material happiness, he is a great fool. He is like a person who gives up nectar to drink poison. “Since I know everything, why should I give this foolish person sense gratification? Instead I shall give him the ambrosia of My lotus feet and make him forget temporary material enjoyment.

Many people worship and pray to Kṛṣṇa with material desires. Kṛṣṇa doesn’t give this poison. He gives shelter of His own lotus feet. Kṛṣṇa says, “They are foolish and only want poison, why should I give that? I will give nectar. I have knowledge, and they are foolish. Why should I give poison? I will give My caraṇāmṛta, changing and bringing them to My lotus feet.”

One may have many desires, but because he worships Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa mercifully changes his desires and brings him to His lotus feet. Many come to Kṛṣṇa and then desire sense enjoyment. Then Kṛṣṇa says, “Okay, go.” When someone desired to come to the temple our ācāryas would say, “Even if he has thousands of faults and is a stupid rascal, take him in your lap and bring him to the āśrama.” And if anyone wanted to leave the temple, our ācāryas would say, “You plan on going tomorrow? Go today. Just now! Go! Go! Don’t make this place polluted any longer. Quickly leave.”

Once, a sannyāsī disciple of an ācārya was going preaching in the summer season with a group of brahmacārīs. He returned after the summer season was complete.

His guru asked him, “Where did you go?”

“I went to Goa, Bihar, Paṭnā, and from there to Delhi, Haridvāra, Hṛṣīkeśa, Kedar-Badri, Gaṅgotrī, Yamunotrī, Badri-Nārāyaṇa, Pañca Pula, and all these places to preach.”

“Did you go to preach,” His guru asked, “or to cool your body off in the summer? How many people did you meet and change?”

The sevakas who had went with the sannyāsī said, “Gurudeva, he told us that it was hot summer and we would not return to the āśrama until the season passed. He told us to remain in Kedaranātha, Gaṅgotrī and Yamunotrī, where we would bathe, and perform bhajana.”

At once, the ācārya guru took away the sannyāsī’s dress marking him as a renunciant, cut his śikhā, neckbeads and brāhmaṇa thread, gave him white cloth, and said, “Go! Enjoy in the Himālayas. Stay in Kumbha, Manali or any other place. You are not Kṛṣṇa’s servant; you are the servant of your body, mind, and senses.” The devotee waited for three years while serving and repenting, then his guru again gave him sannyāsa.

If one performs one-pointed bhajana in sādhu-saṅga, then one can achieve the lotus feet of Kṛṣṇa. One should stay with Kṛṣṇa bhaktas. If desire comes to perform bhakti in someone’s company, you can understand that person is truly a devotee. If desire to enjoy the senses increases in someone’s company, and that person never looks after one’s spiritual life and progress, he is not a high-class devotee. Śravaṇa and kīrtana should be performed with faith. Do even a little kīrtana, but with faith, or a little śravaṇa, but with faith. If the Guru-varga speak, and you have no faith, then pray deeply for this.
Who is a sādhu? He who has no desire for material health, wealth, property, karma, jñāna, the pleasure of the demigods, or anything other than Kṛṣṇa’s unalloyed service, is great and a sādhu. The sādhus’ bodies are holy. By going to sādhus, they purify the sādhaka with their hari-kathā.

śṛṇvatāṁ sva-kathāḥ kṛṣṇaḥ puṇya-śravaṇa-kīrtanaḥ
hṛdy antaḥ stho hy abhadrāṇi vidhunoti suhṛt satām
Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 1.2.17

Śrī Kṛṣṇa, who is the friend of the devotees, cleanses all inauspiciousness and unwanted things from the heart of one who has developed a desire to hear His narrations, which are virtuous when heard and sung.”

Hearing the glories of Kṛṣṇa from the sādhus, that hari-kathā goes inside the heart of the sādhaka and cleans it, like a good friend who comes to his friend’s house and seeing it dirty, cleans it very nicely.

Go to sādhus and hear hari-kathā. They see, “His heart is dirty, he doesn’t hear hari-kathā. In class, he sometimes sleeps, and sometimes his mind wanders around the world restlessly.” Sādhus then go inside the heart, clean it and give greed for hearing hari-kathā.

śuśrūṣoḥ śraddadhānasya vāsudeva-kathā-ruciḥ
syān mahat-sevayā viprāḥ puṇya-tīrtha-niṣevaṇāt
Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 1.2.16

O learned sages, by serving those great bhaktas who are completely clean by heart one develops a greed for hearing hari-kathā, narrations of Vāsudeva.”

When sādhus leave the holy dhāma, they change peoples’ hearts, make them into sādhus and bring them to Vṛndāvana-dhāma. This is the nature of sādhus. They never go away from Vṛndāvana. Wherever they go, they carry Vṛndāvana, the Guru-varga and their service mood and tendency with them. They have Vṛndāvana-dhāma in their heart, and wherever they go, they plant Vṛndāvana-dhāma in the hearts of others.

When one comes to sādhus, first faith comes, and then this increases from one stage to the next.
Coming to sādhus, material nature is gradually lost. Līlā-śakti purifies the heart and then the sādhaka becomes eager to chant harināma and hear śāstra, like Bhagavad-gītā and Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam.

One who has resided in sādhu-saṅga and become instilled with faith can understand Parabrahma. Otherwise, brahma-jñāna will not come in the heart.

In Bhagavad-gītā (4.34), Kṛṣṇa says:

tad viddhi praṇipātena paripraśnena sevayā
upadekṣyanti te jñānaṁ jñāninas tattva-darśinaḥ

Acquire transcendental knowledge by bowing down to the lotus feet of a tattva-darśi-guru, a seer of the Truth, by humble inquiry and submissive service to him. Seeing your submissive obeisance, inquiry and service he will bestow this spiritual knowledge unto you.

One must go to a tattva-darśī-sādhu, a saint fully realized in the truth, he will bestow divine knowledge. Upon hearing something, if there is no desire to practically follow, that is not real knowledge. Spiritual knowledge means one will be active in spiritual life. Then one has spiritual knowledge. Sādhus give advice, strength and power to follow.

Srila Gurudeva ki Jaya! (Excerpted from the Bhaktabandhav book publication, Sri Sri Prema-Bhakti Candrika. Available from [email protected] org )

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